Hospital news

Biden joins First Lady for Christmas Eve visit to children’s hospital

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden brought Christmas Eve joy to hospitalized children who are not well enough to return home during the holidays.

It’s a long-standing tradition for first ladies to visit the National Children’s Hospital over Christmas, but Joe Biden’s visit on Friday came as a surprise. It was the first time that a sitting president had joined the party, the White House said.

It wasn’t the only tradition the president joined on Friday. Jill Biden answered calls from the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Santa Claus follow-up service, another long-standing tradition for first ladies, and she was joined by Biden on the calls.

At the hospital, the Bidens spoke to a group of children making lanterns as part of a winter craft project, asking everyone what they were drawing on their lanterns. Some drew family, snowmen, or other holiday-themed artwork.

They both spoke to a child who said the hospital “helped him when he was down.”

“Well, we hope to bring you some joy today,” replied Jill Biden.

The president added: “You bring us joy, mate.”

Biden also pulled out his phone to show the children pictures of his new dog, Commander, a nearly four-month-old German Shepherd puppy. The dog joined the family this week and was seen playing with a handler on the South Lawn of the White House compound earlier Friday before the Bidens left for their hospital visit.

First Lady Jill Biden listens to a child read a story during a visit to Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, December 24, 2021.

Nicholas Kamm via Getty Images

“His name is Commander!” Jill Biden told the children. “And this morning he was eating my slippers!”

The President and the First Lady then sat in front of the hospital’s Christmas tree, where Jill Biden read “Olaf’s Night Before Christmas” to the children, which was broadcast to hundreds of children in their rooms in the hospital.

The Walt Disney Co. provided copies of the book to each patient so they could follow up with the first lady, the White House said. Each book includes a White House bookmark designed by his office.

The annual tradition of a visit to the First Lady’s hospital dates back to Bess Truman, who held this role from 1945 to 1953.

Before returning to the White House, the two stopped briefly at a Jill Biden-themed Christmas tree set up across the street in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of DC by a local business owner. The President hung the 2021 White House Christmas ornament from one of the branches, nestled between large cutouts of Jill’s face dotting the tree.

Returning to the White House, the pair closed their Christmas Eve festivities by answering calls from NORAD, as they watched Santa Claus fly over the United Arab Emirates on Santa’s tracking screens. They received three very pleasant phone calls from children and parents, although a father ended an otherwise polite conversation with the President by wishing him happy holidays and adding, “Come on Brandon!” Before hanging up. The phrase has become widely used by conservatives to replace a more vulgar epithet against the president.

Biden didn’t seem to grasp the caller’s intention, however – he replied, “Let’s go Brandon, I agree” at the end of the call. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Biden’s response.

AP writer Darlene Superville contributed reporting.

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